The tuning method for the Cuatro is typical to that of any other musical stringed instrument. The Cuatro tuning is reentrant, similar to other instruments, like the Ukulele.
To start tuning the Cuatro, It is a matter of having a tone of reference (typically a tuning fork is used with A). Once you have an A (440Hz) tone, you can use this tone to tune the first string of the Cuatro, the one closest to you, from the musician’s perspective.
The Cuatro tuning is A D F# B, with the singularity that the last B is reentrant, meaning that is tuned an octave lower than the predecessor, the F#.
Have a look at the instructional video below by Cuatrista Darwin Medina on how to tune your Cuatro:
We recommend you do the instrument tuning from the first string to the last, each string of the Cuatro need to produce the following notes:
Once you finish tuning the top string as an A note, then you can proceed to tune the second string. You can do so by pressing the A string on the 5th fret, which is a D note. The second string should be tuned so that it is aligned with the D string.
The next step tuning the 3rd string needs to sound like the 2nd string on the 4th fret. This is the famous F#. After that, the very final step is to tune the 4th string by using the 1st string on the 2nd fret being B.
If you’re just starting with tuning any stringed instrument, we invite you to see some images and references on how to position the fingers at the fretboard when tuning, so you can obtain each note.
The tuning should sound like (a traditional reference) Cam-Bur-Pin-Ton. Very traditional and sounds just like a tuned Cuatro. As a result of the tuning, you might notice that unlike conventional instruments like a guitar, the thickness of the strings does not follow a descending pattern. The thinnest and highest string is the 3rd string being F# and the last string is essentially as low as the first one. Don’t worry, this is totally normal! This allows for the sounds to be in sync whether you are strumming upwards or downwards. Give it a try by strumming up and down and you will see what we mean!
Listen to a tuned cuatro and compare with yours:
Herewith also a demonstration and tuning session by Adrian Toro…for this one please remember to turn on your Subtitles:
In conclusion, tuning a Cuatro is not the same as tuning a Guitar or a Ukulele. Moreover, it requires that you learn the order of the strings and which notes and octaves are needed in order to have the Cuatro ready to be played.